Classical poetic motifs as alchemical metaphors in the Shudhūr al-dhahab and its commentaries

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Abstract Traditionally prized as much for its poetic artistry as its didactic content, Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs’s (fl. twelfth century) dīwān of alchemical verse, the Shudhūr al-dhahab (Shards of Gold), is one of the most important and influential works in the literary canon of Arabic alchemy. Drawing on commentaries by both Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs himself and Aydamir al-Jildakī (d. 743/1342 [?]), the present article explores a core feature of Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs’s allegorical style – one that appears to have captured the attention of his medieval readership – namely his novel use of stock poetic motifs as metaphors for alchemical processes and substances. As well as focusing on the commentators’ theoretical interpretations, the article situates Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs’s deliberate appropriation of pre-Islamic and Nuwāsian motifs in its broader literary context, noting the extent to which it foreshadows similar techniques in the poetic allegories of the thirteenth-century Sufi poets, Ibn ʿArabī and Ibn al-Fāriḍ.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Pages (from-to)665-683
Number of pages19
JournalAsiatische Studien
Issue number2
Early online date4 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021


  • Alchemy
  • Arabic poetry
  • Sufism
  • Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs
  • Aydamir al-Jildakī
  • Abū Nuwās
  • Ibn ʿArabī
  • Ibn al-Fāriḍ


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